dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

Why do people say 'after dark' when what they mean is 'during dark'? After dark would be when it's light again, right? * There are 10 types of people in this world -- those who read binary, and those who don't. * I'm rethinking the whole brown rice thing. What if it's just more white liberal self-hatred? Whole wheat, honey, unbleached flour. All better. Sez who? * Eugene should be HQ for White People for Diversity. We'll fight for diversity to be included in books, which is where we know to look for it. * Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, but give a man a pillow, and he'll dream of steak. * What can you say about a state that puts the town of North Bend 225 miles southwest of Bend? We rely on visitors for entertainment.

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Tax Pot at Zero Percent, Just in Case

October 17th, 2014 · No Comments

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WHEREAS, the City of Eugene is an Oregon home-rule municipal corporation having the authority (blah blah), now therefore the City of Eugene ordains as follows: A tax is hereby levied and must be paid by every seller exercising the taxable privilege of selling recreational marijuana.

Early next week, the Eugene City Council could draft an ordinance very like the paragraph above, except much longer. And it should. At the same meeting, it should also draft a resolution that suspends any such tax for at least six months.

Taken together, these actions would be understood not as an effort to raise money, but simply to retain control. Legal advisers are uncertain whether the courts will allow municipalities any control over recreational marijuana after Measure 91 passes in November, which appears likely. Two dozen Oregon cities have decided they have nothing to lose.

Look at it like this. Marcus Mariota sees that a defender jumps offsides as he hollers “hike.” A penalty flag is dropped but there’s no whistle stopping the play. He knows the play can be called back if the Ducks don’t like the outcome, or they can decline the penalty if they do. He can throw a risky pass, hoping for a high-stakes gain.

It’s considered a “free play” because there’s no risk involved.

Measure 91 forbids local taxes, but only those imposed after the item is legalized. The flag has been thrown but the whistle won’t blow until November 4.

Springfield looks likely to adopt a pot tax and Lane County has scheduled a hearing for next Tuesday. Charging a nickel for grocery bags seemed silly to them, but they may double down with a tax on dime-bags.

Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy was invited this week to a conference focused on entrepreneurial cities. She will return in time for Monday’s public hearing and the city council’s subsequent work session. Marijuana and entrepreneurship have been joined only in hushed conversations, but that’s changing.

Marijuana is shifting from crime to medicine to recreation. Coloradans are already seeing what comes after that: tourism. Now think about that. Where in America will more people want to visit if “get legally high” is on their bucket list?

Sure, tourists can pick where they’d most like to get their legal buzz. They can go to Colorado and ski. They can visit Seattle’s Fremont bridge troll. They may soon imagine themselves in an episode of “Portlandia.” They may even be able to attempt a CSPAN photobomb. (Initiative 71 would legalize marijuana in Washington, DC, where passage also looks likely.)

Can any of those places compete with Eugene, where the ‘60s never reached 70, the underground never went under, and psychedelia never grayed — even if its adherents did?

Tourism taxes can bring money into the local economy without burdening residents. Ashland imposed a restaurant tax in 1990 so visiting Californians could pay for more neighborhood parks. Politicians love tourism taxes because tourists can’t vote them out of office.

We may find ourselves on the forefront of an entire industry that has not yet emerged. If Eugene sees an economic windfall coming, how will we spend the money? On treatment programs, education opportunities, a tax-free marijuana dispensary for residents?

On that, I have no opinion. The proposed accompanying resolution would give City Council time to evaluate the situation. They may later rescind the ordinance altogether, or it may be invalidated by the courts. Or extending the tax suspension for longer may look smart.

A little bit of preparation might give Eugene much more control.

My mother always insisted I carry a jacket when I was leaving the house for more than an hour or two. Her rule was simple, self-evident, and oft-repeated: “If you’ve got it, you can always take it off. But if you don’t have it, you can’t put it on.”

I remember her advice mostly from the times I didn’t take it. North winds can come quickly in Chicago. Legal and political winds of change are on the horizon for marijuana. No one knows what might come next. A little layer of protection — just in case — couldn’t hurt.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs.

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Oregon’s Democratic Prospects May Rise if GOP Wins

October 10th, 2014 · No Comments

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Assuming U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley wins reelection in November, there are five reasons for Oregon Democrats to feel encouraged, even though Republicans seem likely to gain control of the United States Senate.

1. GOP Control is Unlikely to Last More Than Two Years

Projecting beyond the current electoral cycle is always hazardous, but simple arithmetic allows some speculation. As senators accrue seniority and stature, their seats become more secure. Obama’s 2008 victory paved the way for about a dozen first-time Democratic senators, including Merkley. They’re defending their seats for the first time in 2014. In 2016, the hot seats shift to the GOP freshmen who benefited from the 2010 Tea Party revolt.

Add to that the difficulty Republicans have had in recent presidential campaigns and you won’t find very many conservatives who are looking forward to 2016.

2. Filibuster Will be Further Weakened by Republicans

Sen. Merkley deserves some credit for making significant and strategic noise about filibuster reform. In response, Majority Leader Harry Reid weakened the filibuster on his own terms. Senators don’t like it when their traditions are trifled with, so Republicans naturally complained. But there’s a deeper tradition in politics and schoolyards — revenge. If the Republicans control the Senate in 2015, you can be near certain they will give the Democrats even less minority power, paying them back for diminishing minority power in 2013.

In an age when it’s become so difficult to get anything done in Congress, the brake lever of the filibuster won’t be missed, at least not by those who believe in and hope for productive legislating in Washington, DC.

3. Vetoes Would Sharpen the National Debate

President Obama has vetoed exactly two bills in almost six years, fewer than any full-term presidents since 1850. Obama may lose control of the Senate precisely because he asked his allies to do his dirty work of rejection. Sen. Reid has refused to schedule votes on any bills the president didn’t want on his desk, denying senators opportunities to align their votes with their constituents. Many of those senators have struggled to defend their record.

Vetoes are clarifying. Just ask Oregon Governor Kitzhaber, who earned the nickname “Dr. No” for vetoing more bills in the 1990s than any other Oregon governor. But look at the consequences. Kitzhaber is cruising to reelection and the party he opposed has been shut out of power for two decades. Obama and the Democrats likewise will benefit from a steady stream of vetoes against Republican bills that lack popular appeal.

Gridlock will continue, but the lock on the grid will move from Sen. Reid’s passive vote scheduling to the Oval Office’s active veto power. Better optics.

4. Republicans May Revive Earmarks

Republicans will do what they can to gather the two-thirds majorities they will need to override those vetoes. Watch them quietly revive earmarks. It was a noble experiment to eliminate these costly riders that allowed legislators to fund pet projects back home, but it hasn’t worked.

As it turns out, funding a namesake aquarium or building a bridge to nowhere are the favors senators most like swapping. Bringing earmarks back would be an admission that the gears of government need the lubricant of money. That’s an admission more easily gotten from Republicans than Democrats.

5. Oregon Senators Have Powerful Seats

Sen. Ron Wyden is the current chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Merkley recently joined the Senate Appropriations Committee. If you believe that money is power, Oregon has not had this much power on Capitol Hill since the Packwood-Hatfield era ended two decades ago.

Our senators may not be able to wield much of that power during the next session of Congress if they are in the minority, but fewer obstruction tools for the minority and more freedom to fund local projects could pay off for Oregon in 2017.

If a Democrat wins the White House and brings back a Democratic majority in the Senate in 2016, we might be looking at something close to a perfect vision for Oregon as we head toward 2020.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

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SCOTUS-Watching: First in Line, Last to Know

October 10th, 2014 · No Comments

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If you want to watch the United States Supreme Court in action, the first thing you have to do is set your alarm. Only a few dozen seats inside go the general public.

The line usually begins forming around 3 or 4 in the morning. To be sure you’ll get a seat, the best rule is to “get in line before the subway begins running, which is 5 a.m.,” according to Ryan Malphurs, who has witnessed over 100 oral arguments and written a book on what he has observed.

When I arrived on Monday at 4:55 a.m., the line on First Street NE wasn’t a line at all. It was more of a huddle — a gaggle of a half dozen strangers sharing stories and body heat — standing against boredom and a starry chill on the cement sidewalk. “This is nothing,” insisted Graham Blackman-Harris. “We used to line up on the marble steps, and man, it was cold!”

Blackman-Harris has been standing in this line the first Monday of every October since 1991. He and Malphurs became acquainted in this line over the years, building a friendship and collaboration over the most arcane details of court arguments.

Ahead of them in line were only the arresting officer in the case to be argued that morning and two others from the Surrey County Sheriff’s department in North Carolina. They got in line just before 4 to be certain they could see this case to its ultimate conclusion.

Behind me was a genuine Supreme Court groupie and three undergraduates from nearby American University. They wondered aloud whether this term might include any sort of ruling about same sex marriage. “So far, no,” was the informed consensus.

Little did we know.

“Do you think they’ll allow cameras in the courtroom during our lifetimes?” Each of us silently calculated our own life expectancy before admitting that there’s no way to know. Until that day, this will be the only way to witness it.

A little after 7 a.m., with the line now extended to the end of the block, a beefy man with a badge and an earpiece told us what would happen next. We were given numbered cards for our next line-standing appointment at 9 a.m. inside.

We were then free to tour the hallway exhibits or grab a cup of coffee in the cafeteria. Around 9:15, we were instructed to store all electronic devices in lockers before passing through the metal detectors. Pen and paper only are allowed in the courtroom. By 9:30, we were separated from the outside world and seated in the courtroom.

We didn’t learn until later that day what the rest of the world was hearing right then. “I find it incredibly ironic,” Malphurs told me the next day, “that we were first in line and last to know.”

The first tweet came at 9:42 that the justices had denied “writ of certiorari,” letting stand five appellate court rulings that favored same-sex marriage. Their inaction effectively cleared the way for gays and lesbians to marry in 30 states, for the first time representing the majority of the country.

The most important thing the justices did that morning was what they refused to do.

But that decision was not mentioned in the courtroom. Instead, we were hearing a case focused on whether North Carolina’s 1955 motor vehicle law requiring that every automobile have a functioning “stop lamp” (singular) invalidated a routine traffic stop and subsequent vehicle search.

Except for a non-functioning second brake light (which the state law does not mention or require), the driver had done nothing wrong. Did the two ounces of cocaine found during the subsequent search amount to an unlawful seizure, violating his 4th Amendment rights?

We, that 4 a.m. gaggle, were close enough to watch these nine robed trees of jurisprudence swaying through these arguments, but the forest of their cultural impact could not be seen from where we sat. In that forest, the timber of sexual discrimination was falling, and we couldn’t hear it. We were hearing instead about the evidentiary rule forbidding tainted fruit from a poisoned tree.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

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Let’s Have a (Very Public) Secrecy Summit

October 3rd, 2014 · No Comments

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Can we have an open conversation about secrets? Most of us would agree that some secrets are necessary for national, professional, or personal security. A world with no secrets would not be better than a world where everything was secret. So where in between is best for all?

Eugene School District and its teachers’ union led the news last weekend, which is hard to do when there’s no news provided. They announced they had reached a tentative labor agreement, then offered no details of that agreement.

Tad Shannon, Eugene Education Association president and a former Register-Guard reporter, explained the blackout this way: “It’s got to be looked at as an entire package. We want to be able to give a presentation while the entire team is there.”

Tom Di Liberto, one of the union’s negotiators, was more explicit on his Facebook page: “Having the press or community start commenting on a tentative agreement out of context would just create more confusion and could mislead.”

I asked Shannon if he’d like to offer any further comments, but my email went unanswered.

Meanwhile, the University of Oregon Board of Trustees announced their search for a new president will be held close to the vest, and that vest will be Chairman Chuck Lillis’s. Even the advisory committee that has been formed may not become privy to any potential candidates until an offer is on the table.

Again, there’s good reason for the secrecy. “There’s a pretty good chance that the person we think is terrific isn’t looking for a job and we may have to convince them,” Lillis said. He also noted that the more open process used recently has not worked so well.

The question I wish we could explore is when secrecy crosses from necessary to excessive. Secrecy: sometimes OK. Cover-up: never OK.

I spent over three hours Wednesday in Washington D.C. watching the head of the Secret Service refuse to divulge any details about why and how a White House intruder got through the front door. (Short answer: It was unlocked.)

More importantly, Secret Service Director Julia Pierson was unable to explain why the official reports from her agency “evolved.” First, we were told the intruder had no weapon. Then he did, but only got to the building’s threshold. Later, the Washington Post reported that the alarm by the front door had been disabled because it annoyed nearby ushers. Then we learned that the intruder actually dashed deep into the building. Shortly after the Congressional hearing, news broke that the Secret Service officer who finally tackled the intruder was off duty and just happened to be there.

For the only federal agency with “Secret” in its name, Director Pierson didn’t succeed in keeping many, thanks to Post reporter Carol Leonnig. Secret Service’s annual budget exceeds $1 billion, for which it produces one product: trust. The president, state dignitaries, and all Americans rely on that trust.

Protection protocols for the White House include Secret Service surveillance of Pennsylvania Avenue, a seven-foot wrought-iron fence, guards at the perimeter and the door, attack dogs, sharpshooters, door locks, door alarms, and an emergency intercom system.

Three additional safeguards have been added since: automatic door locks, an additional barricade in front of the fence, and Pierson’s stonewalling. What wasn’t offered, at least not publicly, was whether the non-performing agents will be fired.

Pierson resigned her directorship on Thursday, which had to happen. She and all Americans should all be glad the only sword fallen upon was metaphorical.

Let’s claim this as a teachable moment and convene a Secrecy Summit.

Without Leonnig’s investigative reporting, Secret Service house-cleaning would have stopped at rug-sweeping. But industrious and fearless journalists can’t be everywhere. As information can be distributed more easily, protecting information becomes more important. Just ask your children’s teachers.

Who gets to keep secrets from whom, for how long, and with what protections? If they use that shield of secrecy to mislead or dissemble, who will pay and who will decide?

We might all agree how and when secrets are permissible, but we’ll need to talk about it first.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

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Place-Making Must Reclaim Its Place

September 26th, 2014 · 2 Comments

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I have a new nearby option for Vietnamese food. I can walk to a corner parking lot and order my pho from Tam’s Place. But it’s not a place, at least not for anyone but Tam. It’s a food truck.

Sometimes I drive by and the truck is not parked there. Tam’s Place is in some other place. So which place is Tam’s Place? I guess I’d have to ask Tam Howitt. (I learned her name from her Facebook page.) She probably has dreams of someday having her own place, inviting people in and feeding them. Or maybe she had a place and now she’s downsized to a food truck but doesn’t want to print new business cards.

Tam doesn’t need my advice and I’m not meaning to offer it. But I do worry that we’re losing something important that we call “place.” Place was central to our lives. We wanted a place of our own. We looked forward to inviting others over to our place.

Meals especially were fixed to a specific place — kitchen table for casual meals, dining room for Sundays and special occasions. Around the table, everyone had their place, even sometimes placemats.

Home used to be the ultimate place — the meta-place, where everyone’s place was placed. But it’s becoming less that now. Homes are becoming like airports, where people catch their connecting flights or gather their baggage.

We used to “check in” at home periodically — that’s where the airport term originated. But now we’re more likely to check in on websites like Facebook or Four Square. If we check in with family members, it’s by phone.

We come home to recharge — our phones!

Whatever waking hours we spend at home now are spent watching signals beamed to us from far away or sending signals to others over the World Wide Web. The world has come to our doorstep, but fewer people come through our doorway. We let our fingers do the walking. Then we forgot to exercise our other body parts.

Everybody is on the go all the time. Placing requires stopping. Placing without stopping leads to spilling and breaking and crying and hurting. Better not to even attempt to place. No one gets hurt — at least not all at once.

We’ve only traded an acute pain for a chronic one. We avoid the dramatic pain of rejection, but invite a gnawing unsettledness. Tam might find a better street corner for her Vietnamese cuisine. She’ll move on and so will her customers. But some sadness will linger, or should.

Can we know who we are if we don’t know where we are? If we don’t have a place, can we be sure there’ll always be a place for us? If a certain place isn’t ours, how can we be sure it won’t be filled by someone else? If we’ve never felt placed, will we know it when we’re about to be replaced?

That’s the fear that hides in us when we try to live without place. This is why helping to the homeless is so difficult, but also so important. Houselessness is an economic condition. Homelessness is an emotional state. Getting a house is easier than feeling at home. Home is where you feel safe, which then allows you to feel all your other feelings.

It’s not a place if you’re not invited in. Going by or going near does not make something a place. Gertrude Stein summed it up famously: “The trouble with Oakland is that when you get there, there isn’t any there there.”

Eugene is embarking on some significant place-making projects right now. We should be paying attention.

City Hall and the EWEB riverfront are prominent locations seeking to become places. Kesey Square may get reimagined to become more welcoming. New streetscapes are coming to Glenwood, south Willamette, and west Eugene. Each of these will have significant public spaces, but will they become genuine public places?

I can’t come to Tam’s Place, but I want opportunities to bump into Tam in some of these public places. If that sort of thing happens often and comfortably, we will have succeeded.

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Has Lane County Finally Solved Its Paradox of Plenty?

September 26th, 2014 · 3 Comments

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Movies 12 in Springfield is closing for good this Sunday. Lane County’s venerable discount movie theater will be demolished to make way for the next iteration of Gateway Mall. I’d like to invite you to hope with me that its loss points to a much larger gain for all of us.

This isn’t the first time Movies 12 was marked for deletion. When Cinemark 17 was being built 15 years ago, we all assumed that the older theater on the other end of the mall would be shuttered. It only made sense.

But the Cinemark executives in Plano, Texas had information we did not have. They determined that this community would line up to watch also-ran movies at rock-bottom prices. And they were right.

For years and years, more people preferred to watch old or bad movies, so long as the price was right. Cinemark’s larger and more luxurious theater in the same location has done better on blockbuster weekends, but daily ticket numbers have only recently passed Movie 12’s totals.

If people vote with their feet, they voted for cheap.

Architect Otto Poticha for years has called Eugene the “land of good enough.” He wants to save Eugene’s city hall building partly because it’s one of the few expressions of extravagance in our built environment.

An entrepreneur once confided in me after a long day, “Man, you people really love your scarcity.” We’d made do with so little for so long, it was all we knew.

None of this would surprise an economist. They call it the “paradox of plenty” or the “resource curse.” Areas with abundant natural resources grow their economies more slowly than areas with less abundance. Diversity of revenue sources not only makes an economy more resilient, it has a similar effect on its residents.

Change is welcomed where prosperity comes from multiple sources, because that new thing might be the Next Thing. Conversely, reliance on resource extraction teaches people to keep to themselves. They become skeptical about innovation and uncomfortable with diversity.

All humans really need are sustenance and warmth. Where housing, heat and food can be produced locally, external market forces can be effectively ignored. Shielded from the specter of starvation or frostbite, people settle for what they can do for themselves. The political courage that comes from making hard choices doesn’t develop.

When your wealth is in the ground, “dig deeper” is not a moral metaphor. It’s an economic strategy.

This is why oil-rich countries often lag behind others in education, standard of living, and consensual social order. When change finally comes, it can be very unpleasant.

In the late 1960s, our city fathers (they were all fathers) came to the conclusion that the circus was being run from the monkey cage. Free love, cheap housing, and easy drugs moved in and didn’t leave, for a very long time.

When the spotted owl and automation blocked the lumberjack’s career path, our resource curse came into full view. We hadn’t diversified our economy because we hadn’t needed to. Suddenly we needed to, but we didn’t know how. We tried to branch out. Marathon. Hyundai. Symantec.

Something shifted. History will show it happened slowly, but those who were here will insist it happened all at once.

Federal District Judge Michael Hogan teamed up with architect Thom Mayne to build an outrageous courthouse and Eugene had its first signature building in a generation.

Joey Harrington’s image was unfurled in New York City and the University of Oregon became a national brand. Buildings and helmets and magazine covers followed. Enrollment surged, but also changed.

More students came from farther. They came with more money to spend. Their new apartments offered granite countertops. Slowly we upgraded our own kitchens.

Eugene has begun to emerge from the haze of its adolescence. The resource curse may finally be lifting. Diversity is being embraced more deeply. Each dollar we spend — for movies and other necessities — is beginning to move more quickly, out of and into local pockets. The velocity of money tracks with economic development.

It may be that the best has just begun. Pass the popcorn.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs.

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… legalizing marijuana …

September 22nd, 2014 · 3 Comments

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How will Eugene change is marijuana is legalized for recreational use? Will a town already short on ambition be further drained? Will tourists wanting a genuine hippie experience flock here and spend loads of cash earned elsewhere? Will smoking pot lose all its cache when it no longer requires defying authority? I wonder what you think.

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… Tom’s Place isn’t one …

September 22nd, 2014 · 1 Comment

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I can now get Vietnamese food near my house by going to Tom’s Place. But it’s not a place, at least not for anyone but Tom. There’s no going in. It’s a food truck, on wheels. In the mornings, the truck is not in the lot. Tom’s Place is in some other place. So which place is Tom’s Place? Maybe I’ll have to ask Tom — if that’s even the owner’s name.

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… White House precautions …

September 22nd, 2014 · No Comments

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Secret Service is considering airport-style metal detectors and screening for anyone wanting to get within three blocks of the White House. Why? Because a fellow last week jumped the fence and got inside the front door undeterred. Which is odd because the front door is supposed to be locked, attack dogs were supposed to be released, and Secret Service was supposed to interview people who loiter near the fence for days or weeks, as this man did. So you have three protection systems in place, and none of them are followed. Why add a fourth layer of security instead of making sure the first three work?

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… governance is slipping …

September 22nd, 2014 · 1 Comment

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We’ve slowly been replacing governance with a continual campaign mentality. This allows incumbents (even lame ducks) to help their party hold power, as if that’s an end in itself. Gone almost entirely is the idea that I have this job for four years and I’ll do the best job I can until my time is up. Obama is unfortunately furthering this trend.

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